Eric Walden started going to shows about a decade ago because the Two-For-Tuesdays concerts at the original House of Blues Anaheim were “cheaper than seeing a movie.” Getting his first taste of live music inspired Walden to take it upon himself to help such smaller, local bands flourish.
The 23-year-old began his mission by writing reviews and interviewing bands for the music blog Soundcheck411.com and, eventually, his own website, BytheBarricade.com. About two years ago, Walden began realizing he could do even more by signing the bands himself.
“BytheBarricade got so many requests from local bands that it became clear there were so many local bands who were underserved,” Walden says.
He started Awfully Good Records (AGR), a Seal Beach-based independent record label, in January 2016 while taking classes in music business and strategic planning at Whittier College. Since then, the company has supported local acts like Filmspeed, Firing All Cylinders, The Sex Tape Scandal, Desolate the Few and From Zero to Hero.
Walden says he considers AGR — which focuses on aggressive pop-punk and melodic metal outfits — as a catalyst for helping these bands get off their feet and land contracts with bigger labels.
“We’re super excited to finally be able to really have an impact on getting bands’ music out there,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing for me is working with bands and trying to get them ready for bigger labels. That’s my ultimate view of success. We’re the ones that wave the flags and say, ‘Hey, pay attention.’ When someone finally does, that’s a big deal for us.”
Most recently, AGR released Filmspeed’s latest record, Hexadecimal, in October. The Huntington Beach-based band quickly garnered 50,000 Spotify plays from the 11-track album within a few months.
Walden also released a compilation album with 22 artists and ended up distributing about 1,800 records in about three days.
He says AGR’s business model is different from bigger labels, and even bigger independent companies, because it focuses on transparency and integrity.
The label also seeks to work with bands who have a good idea of their goals in regard to albums and touring, as well as what they want their albums to sound like.
“The closer [the albums] are to done, the better,” Walden says. “I don’t want to get involved and stifle any of the creative sparks that are going through with the bands. … Occasionally, we’ll have a band that will say, ‘OK, make us Green Day by tomorrow. Where do we sign?’ We have developed an acquisition and qualification process to really figure out exactly what metrics and specifics to use to help them reach where they want to be.”
Likewise, Walden and his small team aren’t out to make their clients drastically alter their routines once they are signed.
Most of the bands AGR has worked with have been “working class bands,” Walden says.
“We don’t expect these guys to drop their lives and go on tour for 100 days a year,” he says. “Our goal is to get them ready to make that decision. We have the things in place to allow them to pursue all those goals, but we don’t expect them to hop on the road, leave their families, quit their day jobs and start making this their full-time career.”
Moving forward, Walden says he anticipates signing about three bands a year. This gives the label the ability to focus on its roster and give significant attention to each band to help them reach their goals, he notes.
But, he says, he also doesn’t envision the label growing to be a huge empire.
“It was a passion project, and it’s great if it’s sustainable and able to go on,” he says. “Even if it’s not, it’s something I’m going to continue pouring my life and soul into. It’s something that I’m excited to be doing for potentially the rest of my life and onward.”